Here's the real hero of the event.
Everything You Didn't See, Yesterday At The Pipe Masters
A firsthand and lengthy toes-in-the-sand account.
Kieren Perrow gets a crazy look in his eye before taking off on a barreling wave. He’s even got one of those psychopath smiles, like someone who can’t wait to cut your tongue off and feed it to his pet turtle, which I got to see in full force yesterday.
Minutes before the opening heat, The Commish stroked into the wave of the morning at Backdoor. It was a tall, wedging right and he took off deeper than most. I’m not sure if he made it, as I was only able to witness the takeoff before duckdiving the thing, but I’d imagine he did. KP, after all, is a Pipe Master.
I was amazed to find that, after a pre-comp surf with consistent Backdoor rights, the first heat went in the opposite direction. While Conner and Julian sat out the back, waiting for the waves they’d been watching all morning, Ian Gouveia nabbed left after left, securing the only legitimate scores of the clash. Round 4 Heat 1 went out with a whimper.
This would be about the only non-exciting thing to happen throughout the day.
John got a buzzer beater to beat his arch nemesis, Caio Ibelli, in Round 4. In the next heat, Gabriel Medina attempted a 20-foot air to steal the lead back from a slippery Jeremy Flores. You could see just how far the Brazilian was willing to go to win this title.
In the last heat of the round, Kanoa Igarashi took down Kelly Slater, bringing the Japanese-American to a lifetime 3-0 record against Slater in the Pipe Masters, thus continuing his trend of unlikely success at the world’s most prestigious event.
Sitting on Oahu’s white sand for the opening heats of Round 5, I found the scene to be surreal. Beautiful. With the sun high, the water a deep, dark blue, and playful rights running along the Backdoor reef, it was an idyllic moment; truly.
As Joel Parkinson made his way in from an easy victory over Conner Coffin, a swarm of Aussie youths stormed the shoreline, adorned in WSL jerseys and carrying big, blue Australian flags. Sometimes I forget that people actually care that much about professional surfing.
During the Caio vs. Julian Round 5 clash, I was drawn down to the Pipe side of the beach by what I hoped to be a mirage. From what I could tell, guys were getting lengthy chest-high drainers along the Ehukai sandbar. I had to go investigate.
It turned out I was right. Overnight the sandbar had formed into a sizzling left point, which fired along the shallow bank for 50 meters before exploding on dry sand. Jordy Smith and Brett Barley were threading near-perfect little tubes on a wave not dissimilar to a secret spot near Fresno. I was jealous.
Next up was Kelly and Gabs. This made me equal parts excited and sad. Going into the day I was most certainly on Team John John, but even more than a JJF victory I would have loved to see a John x Gabby heat for the title. This was, of course, an impossibility, as the only place the two could have met was in the final, at which point John would have already been crowned World Champ. It’s weird that in our sport, the two best guys never necessarily have to surf against one another to establish dominance. Maybe the new format will change that.
Like a little fanboy, I waited along the human-fence line to see Kelly and Gabriel enter the water. Kelly ran past with plenty of time to spare, but as the clock dwindled from five to four to three, two, one, it struck me that Gabby would not be coming that way. So where was the little bugger? Surely, he wouldn’t miss a heat against Slater at Pipeline with World Title implications.
The award ceremony featured dozens of courteous platitudes, but there was one quote that I thought you might enjoy.
In reference to Jeremy stealing victory in the dying seconds, WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said, and I quote: “We couldn’t have scripted it any better!”
Oh she is a little rabble-rouser, isn’t she! Mocking the WSL and the general surfing public all in one fell swoop. I think we’ll keep her.
And that was my Pipeline Masters finals day experience. It was incredible in many ways but mostly, to me, because there’s a decent chance that a title race will never be decided in this wonderful place again. I’m so happy to have experienced it in my lifetime.
At the end of the day, there was only one thing left to do. I sprinted across the glute-enraging sand, which now felt like concrete to my steely calves, hopped on my bike, and pedaled all the way back to our Log Cabins dungeon. Signing into my Fantasy account, I was already counting the Mai Tai’s I’d buy with my Jeremy-spawned winnings. I clicked on my league just to make sure and…
One point short. One motherfucking point, out of nearly 8,000. I guess Jeremy stole the last buzzer-beater of the event.
Oh this is a moment!
Looking waaaaay down toward Off the Wall, I made out a tiny speck of red in the lineup. As it turned out, Gabby had avoided the chaos that was me and all my sandy friends by paddling out down the beach. When I talked with a Rip Curl employee later on, he informed me that Gab had been sending someone to collect his jersey so that he could avoid being assaulted by fans on his way to the water. Fair enough.
Heading into the Round 5 clash, I feel Kelly had a major personal incentive to win.
But Kelly would never earn that right. Gabby absolutely demolished the 11x champ, who fell on a perfect wave early on (foot problems?) and never recovered. Meanwhile, Gab locked into a couple healthy righthanders, one 8, one 9, and never looked like losing. The best moment of the heat came when, while facing imminent defeat and surfing under priority, Slater free-fell into a Backdoor drainer just to see what Gabby would do. In a move straight out of Kelly’s handbook, Gabby stared down the man in the barrel and with an ice-cold countenance airdropped right on top of him. Instead of trying to surf what was left of the wave, Gabby veered toward the tube-exiting Kelly, who hallmarked the moment with a sarcastic double-shaka. The man has a way of stealing the spotlight.
The most passionate peoples in surf.
Medina’s crew was invested the entire heat — cheering wildly for Gabby’s rides and even more wildly when his crippled, middle-aged competitor wiped-out. A Stab commenter recently posited, “Is there any difference between being ‘passionate’ and being a dickhead? Because I’m starting to think they’re the same thing.” I’m not sure how to answer that question.
Choosing to fight fire with fire, Jamie O’Brien’s errand-boy, Poopies, ran down the beach Speedoed and carrying A “Go John John”/Hawaiian flag. On the water’s edge he stood, face-to-face with a Santa-hat-wearing Brazilian flag-bearer, waving his allegiance for the world to see.
This is what surfing’s all about!
Next up were Italo and the Italian, who felt the effects of the changing weather patterns. Needing a major result to requalify, Leo waited patiently out the back for a special wave. It never came so, with less than a minute remaining, he airdropped and fell on his only wave of the heat. It received less than a point but at least no one can call him Leonard0.0. Then Gouveia beat Parko in a low-scoring affair.
John was up next, and I was interested to see what his entourage would look like in comparison to Gabby’s. The contrast was shocking. While Medina had at least twenty of his closest family and friends cheering him on from the water’s edge, John had only one lackey, Ross Williams, who sat quietly on the shoreline with the Champ’s backup board.
With four minutes left in his quarterfinal against Julian Wilson, John nabbed a long tube across the inside section. While Florence was threading the needle, Ross put both of his hands up in silent celebration, and then walked back to basecamp the second John exited the barrel. Job: done.
Next up were Flores and Medina. Having beaten the Brazilian earlier in the morning, and seeing as how the waves had deteriorated into crumbly righthand tubes, Jeremy had to like his chances.
The only major score came when Jeremy, under priority, snagged a double-up tube across Backdoor’s shallow inside shelf. Gabby could’ve gone, should’ve gone, but for some reason didn’t. If God were really on Medina’s side, wouldn’t he have urged the Brazilian to go? He could have taken over his body or at least given Gabs a sign, but instead, nothing. Thanks to God Medina was going to lose.
As Rocky Cannon counted down “10, 9, 8…”, the crowd recited the numbers along with him, until he reached “1!”, at which point the entire beach erupted. I believe the loudest cheers came from John’s child army, also known as Sunset Beach Elementary students, who were on a state-sponsored field trip to witness their most famous alumnus achieving greatness.
Think they’ve read Lord of the Flies yet?
John celebrated his victory away from the masses, on the knoll of the Johnson residence. From the bottom of the staircase I couldn’t see much, but from the photos I found later on it looked like a lovely affair. Friends and family were genuinely ecstatic for Hawaii’s local hero, and the world’s best surfer.
Just before his semifinal heat, John jogged down the stairs with a huge smile on his face. But instead of embracing the masses, he looked straight ahead and jogged across the sand. This was not the time to revel in his victory — there was still work to be done.
Speaking of work to be done, remember the Vans Triple Crown? Due to a couple of huge performances at Haleiwa and Sunset, Griffin Colapinto found himself in the lead going into Pipe. The only problem was, Griffin wasn’t on the CT, so he’d have to surf through the trials to make it onto the main event, from which point he could try to defend his position. But Griffin lost in the trials, leaving the door wide open for as many as 12 CT competitors to steal the Triple Crown out from under him.
Nobody did. Conner Coffin and Italo Ferreira were each a couple heats shy of victory, while Kolohe Andino fell a devastating 12 points short. Their failure to capitalize made Griffin Colapinto, at 19-years-old, one of the youngest VTC winners of all time, and perhaps the only person ever to do it in just two events. He’s now $50k richer and further solidified as one of the most dangerous up-and-comers in the sport.
But back to the action.
Like Leo Fioravanti, Ian Gouveia also could have requalified with a Pipe Masters win, and you could see it in his surfing. The Brazilian controlled most of the semifinal with a couple of solid backside tubes, while John struggled to find the rhythm and even broke a board.
When the announcer hinted at a broken board, this kid stopped in his tracks, looked toward the ocean and charged headfirst into its fury. He beat out a horde of kids and adults to win the ultimate prize. A well-earned trophy indeed.
As the waves went flat out front, I looked to my left and saw a goofyfoot flying down the line at Insanities, heading for a stupidly large section. Gabby launched off the lip with reckless fortitude, jumping over eight feet high and rotating a full 540 degrees, before getting obliterated in the whitewater. Ten minutes later I looked over again and he landed a massive flip. The kid is scary all the time, but when he’s mad, watch the fuck out.
In the small minutes of the semifinal, it appeared John would not be winning his first Pipe Masters in 2017. He had already clinched the World Title though, so not a huge deal.
I should have known better. The event had run rampant with buzzer-beater victories, and John had every intention of keeping that streak alive. With seconds to go he threaded an impossibly long tube and capped it with a picture-perfect air reverse on the closeout. He needed a mid-8. He got a high-8. The score was absolutely justified and the crowd cheered with gusto.
For some reason it was decided that John’s chairing would happen right then. In hindsight it’s a good thing they chose to do it at this junction, but at the time it seemed a bit silly considering he still had one heat to go. Was this a celebration of his World Title or of his dramatic heat win? Nobody really seemed to know, or care, but it was a celebration!
Just how it should be.
I passed on the second semifinal to get an açaí bowl. I returned to the news that Jeremy had waited for the best wave of the heat and won with a 9. Classic Jeremy, and good for me too, as the Frenchman was my Fantasy darkhorse. Maybe I did have a shot at winning the kitty.
John got the first decent score of the final, followed by a better one by Jeremy and then a better one by John. The Champ then went on a non-priority rampage, nailing multiple 7s on mediocre-looking waves. John’s ability to fit his large frame in tiny positions, and to match his speed with the speed of the barrel for as long as it will allow, are two of the main reasons John is better than everyone out here. All of these guys can shoot a tube, but John is the only one who really rides them.
With three minutes on the clock, I was positive John had won. Jeremy needed a low-8 to win, and the ocean appeared flat. I started running down the beach to photograph John’s fan brigade, which left me comically unaware of the action in the water. As I went to take my photo, the facial expressions in John’s camp changed drastically. They went weirdly silent, and before I knew it Rocky Cannon was hyping up a raucous tube. Turning back toward the water, I saw Jeremy Flores riding on the shoulder with his hand curled back to his head as if to say “I’m the guy.”
What the fuck just happened?
As the hooter sounded, the crowd cheered half-heartedly as if to say, “Yeaaaah, I think John won…?” At this time Jeremy waded on the inside, waiting to hear the judges’ response. They took their sweet time, and it wasn’t until Jeremy had walked halfway up the beach that they dropped the score.
Just like that, Jeremy Flores was a 2x Pipeline Master. Jeremy was lifted from the sand like a recently discovered king and chaired toward the podium. This sent me running from one end of the beach to the other in order to get a photo. I darted through an obstacle course of bethonged women, well-behaved dogs, and littered açaí containers but was able to reach the stage just in time for a quick photo op. Phew.
J Flore vs. J Flore, a weird coincidence and weirder still that the WSL was hyping it up.